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Birmingham church bombing survivor reflects on 60th anniversary of attack

Sixty years after the KKK bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Sarah Collins Rudolph said she still feels the scars.

Rudolph, who was 12 at the time, was one of the 22 people injured in the blast that claimed the life of her sister, Addie Mae, 14, and three other girls.

Looking back at the somber anniversary, Rudolph told ABC News that she wants people to remember not only those who were lost in the terrorist attack, but also how the community came together to fight back against hate.

PHOTO: A view of police activity outside the bomb damaged 16th Street Baptist Church on Sept. 15, 1963, in Birmingham, Ala. (Chris Mcnair/Getty Images)
PHOTO: A view of police activity outside the bomb damaged 16th Street Baptist Church on Sept. 15, 1963, in Birmingham, Ala. (Chris Mcnair/Getty Images)

"I really believe my life was spared to tell the story," she said.

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On Sept. 15, 1963, the KKK bombed the church just as services were underway.

The blast destroyed a major part of the building and killed four girls who were in the building's ladies' lounge -- Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, 14, Carole Robertson, 14, and Carol Denise McNair, 11.

PHOTO: FBI agents investigate the aftermath of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Sept. 16, 1963, in Birmingham, Ala. (Burton Mcneely/Getty Images)
PHOTO: FBI agents investigate the aftermath of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Sept. 16, 1963, in Birmingham, Ala. (Burton Mcneely/Getty Images)

Rudolph said she remembers being in the lounge with the other girls when the dynamite went off.

"When I heard a loud noise, boom, and I didn't know what it was. I just called out 'Addie, Addie,' but she didn't answer," Rudolph said.

PHOTO: Sarah Collins Rudolph, who survived the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., speaks with ABC News. (ABC News)
PHOTO: Sarah Collins Rudolph, who survived the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., speaks with ABC News. (ABC News)

Rudolph lost vision in one of her eyes and eventually had to get a glass eye. She said her life was taken away from her.

"It was taken away because when I was young," Rudolph said, "Oh, I wanted to go to school to be a nurse. So I just couldn't do the things that I used to do."

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The bombing sparked an outcry from Birmingham's Black community and civil rights leaders across the nation.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who eulogized three of the victims at their funeral, called the attack "one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity."

PHOTO: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., center, Dr. LH Pitts, left, and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, speak during a press conference in the wake of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 16, 1963. (Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., center, Dr. LH Pitts, left, and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, speak during a press conference in the wake of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 16, 1963. (Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)

Although the bombing helped to spur Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other changes, it took almost 40 years for justice to be served.

Between 1977 and 2002, four KKK members, Herman Frank Cash, Robert Edward Chambliss, Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry, were convicted for their roles in the bombings.

PHOTO: Former Sen. Doug Jones speaks with ABC News. (ABC News)
PHOTO: Former Sen. Doug Jones speaks with ABC News. (ABC News)

Former Sen. Doug Jones, who led the prosecutions in the 1990s and early 2000s against Blanton and Cherry when he was a U.S. Attorney, told ABC News it was important to make sure that those responsible were held accountable.

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"It was one of those just moments that you realize how important your work is, and how you can do things for a community that will help heal wounds," he said.

PHOTO: This 1977 photo shows a memorial plaque at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. for Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins and Carole Robertson, the four girls killed in a bombing at the church in 1963. (The Birmingham News/AP)
PHOTO: This 1977 photo shows a memorial plaque at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. for Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins and Carole Robertson, the four girls killed in a bombing at the church in 1963. (The Birmingham News/AP)

Rudolph said she wants the world to remember her sister and her friends who were killed, but, more importantly, how their tragedy helped to spur action that would last for decades.

"I want people to know that these girls, they didn't die in vain," she said.

Birmingham church bombing survivor reflects on 60th anniversary of attack originally appeared on abcnews.go.com